Experiential learning is a process through which students develop knowledge, skills, and values from direct experiences outside a traditional academic setting. Experiential learning encompasses a variety of activities, social activities and field trips (more complex social settings), service learning, community engagement, adapted / inclusive recreational sports programs and actual job site experience. Well-planned, supervised and assessed experiential learning programs can stimulate academic inquiry by promoting interdisciplinary learning, civic engagement, career development, cultural awareness, leadership, and other professional and intellectual skills.
Learning that is considered “experiential” contain all the following elements:
- Reflection, critical analysis and synthesis
- Opportunities for students to take initiative, make decisions, and be accountable for the results
- Opportunities for students to engage intellectually, creatively, emotionally, socially, or physically
- A designed learning experience that includes the possibility to learn from natural consequences, mistakes, and successes
Soft Skills Curriculum
Communication skills: Communication skills are necessary for the development of self-advocacy and self-determination, important skills for lifelong success. To that end, we will explore many activities that offer opportunities for youth to practice communicating their strengths and assets while learning how to minimize any perceived barriers in their daily lives and future employment settings. Interpreting “Body Language”, the non-verbal subtext to verbal communication, is essential to developing a better understanding of the other persons feelings and actions (empathy). Empathy is the key to productive relationships and lasting friendships.
Attitude: Participants will hear strategies for turning negative thinking into positive thinking and displaying and discussing enthusiasm though out their lives. We strive to steer or students from an “I can’t” attitude to an “I CAN and these are the supports I need to be successful”. Regardless of the challenges our young people have to conquer, developing and displaying a positive attitude will often help them to surpass their peers in many aspects of life.
Teamwork: Many of the activities in our curriculum seek to teach participants about the importance of teamwork to workplace success and the specific role each individual on a team may play. Participants will learn about positive teamwork behavior and discover how their own conduct can impact others on a team. We will also discuss possible obstacles to teams working successfully and offers the opportunity to build constructive strategies for overcoming these challenges.
Networking: Developing networking skills is particularly important for those with limited work experiences, which is unfortunately often the case for youth with disabilities. By creating opportunities whereby young people can research, talk to, and network with those working in careers of interest, the more likely they will be able to make informed choices regarding their future.
Problem Solving: Building self-determination skills, such as goal setting, decision-making, self-advocacy, and problem solving should be included in career planning for all youth. Youth with disabilities and/or other (perceived) barriers to employment and/or disconnected youth will tend to have a resiliency not always experienced by their same aged peers – and not always easily seen or understood by themselves or by adults. The activities we use in this curriculum help young people explore how the obstacles they may face in life can pose an opportunity for developing and demonstrating maturity, responsibility, and personal experience. Providing young people with safe opportunities to explore how their personal resiliency can be used to develop enhanced problem solving and conflict resolutions skills is an opportunity many students may shy away from, but one that may ultimately be a gift in all aspects of life, community and the workplace.
When introducing participants with disabilities to experiential learning, there are several additional considerations that must be imbedded in the program.
- Each Participant has their own baseline of cognitive, physical and health related challenges, so the level of experiential intensity must be appropriate, ensuring the participant’s experience is positive, encouraging the individual to delve deeper into each new adventure.
- There is no one metric that can be used across the board when evaluating the impact of the program on each participant.
- The degree of assistance required to maintain comfort and confidence during the experience must be predicated on the participant’s baseline abilities.